Since its infectious trailer dropped in January (just try not to watch it on repeat), The Get Down has made every list of the year’s hotly anticipated TV releases. The first six episodes premiere on Netflix on August 12th, so they’re knee-deep in production right now, but on the closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival, series director Baz Luhrmann sat down with one of the show’s writers and executive producers, the journalist and critic Nelson George, at the SVA Theater in Chelsea to talk about the show and his creative process.
Set in the late 1970s, The Get Down is a lightly fictionalized account of the birth of hip-hop among kids in the South Bronx, backlit by the turmoil of a nearly-bankrupt city. The show boasts a constellation of rising and established talent, including Jaden Smith, Shameik Moore (Dope), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Jimmy Smits (Sons of Anarchy) and a host of talented newcomers – at least one of whom was discovered “rhyming in the subway in the Bronx,” Luhrmann told the audience.
Luhrmann is quick to say that the show is not really about the birth of hip-hop, but the moments just before, when disco’s star came crashing down while hip-hop’s was on the rise. “The transition is so quick, and it’s just contained in this little geographic area,” Luhrmann explained. “So that’s what really attracted me: Yes, the pre-history of hip-hop, but also the way disco, and punk, they all lived side by side. They had this parallel universe.”
Appropriately enough for the man who made Romeo + Juliet, the talk took place on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and he laced his discussion with references to the Bard even as he revealed some tantalizing details about his upcoming show.
1. The show has a narrator, and his rhymes are written by Nas.
A host of hip-hop’s “founding fathers” serve as advisors on The Get Down, several of whom are also played by actors in the show. Grandmaster Flash, for instance is an associate producer and is played by Mamoudou Athie. Luhrmann and George also mentioned Kool Herc and Rahiem of the Furious Five, and they hinted at a much longer list. The artists have done everything from writing rhymes to teaching the young cast how to hold the microphone while rapping. That last task went to Kurtis Blow, said Luhrmann: “The politics of it, what it meant, had to be re-programmed, because their experience of rap was Nineties rap.”